When winter’s frigid weather rolls in (or “crashes down” might be more appropriate), we humans have the ability to head inside into comfy little dens stockpiled with plenty of food and kept snugly warm by various measures. Things are much harder on the various critters forced to endure the cold, the precipitation, and the widespread dearth of edibles in this “dead” season.
Winter is the perfect time, then, for you to practice a little cold-weather kindness by helping wildlife make it through these dark, grim days when survival is a constant challenge. With a little planning and effort, you can make your entire yard into an oasis in the icy desert, a shelter from the freezing storm, a larder filled with sustaining, tasty tidbits.
Here are some of the best methods for making your homeplace a wildlife-friendly winter habitat:
1. Keep your birdfeeders full and spread extra seed on the ground. Feeder birds are still plentiful in winter and will need the easily accessible, highly nourishing (and fattening) seeds available in birdfeeders. But if you spread some seed on the ground, too, you will ensure that birds and other critters (including squirrels, like it or not) get something to eat as well. Many winter birds will not venture up to the feeder itself; examples include sparrows of all sorts, juncos, and towhees, which are a joy to watch as they scratch and kick in snow or leaves to find little bits to eat.
2. Drop extra-special winter treats around your yard. For example, smear peanut butter in pine cones and hang them up or just throw them about. Dried corn cobs (with kernels, of course) will feed squirrels, deer, and some birds. Suet is a favorite of woodpeckers and other birds–and squirrels, if you let them get to it.
3. Put hot water in your birdbaths and remove frozen water. Even though hot water will soon freeze when the temperatures tank, the birds will greatly (and visibly) appreciate having a water source–for drinking in, bathing in, and playing in (not to mention pooping in, of course). Snow may be plentiful, but that does not necessarily mean plentiful water for drinking. A full birdbath can be helpful to keep wildlife hydrated. And they are just plain fun whatever the season.
4. Plant trees, shrubs, and grasses that provide food in the winter. Some of the best plants are berry-producing trees and shrubs, such as holly (tree and/or shrub), winterberry, and serviceberry; switchgrass, goldenrod, and even purple coneflower are good for seeds. Even coniferous trees provide food for some wildlife. While you may not benefit from these fruitful plants, wildlife from birds to bunnies will find some tasty treats thanks to your thoughtful planting.
5. Rather than shredding or trashing fallen limbs and other yard “waste,” pile this stuff up in your yard. All the animals, small and large, will use these for shelter during the winter, be it for building a homeplace or for hiding out when predators are on the prowl. (Plus, this “waste” will decompose and help to feed the Earth.) Wood piles are equally exceptional as places of shelter and of play for all sorts of animals; wrens seem to be particularly fond of the little cubbyholes and caverns formed by piled logs. Even piles of leaves can become useful for wildlife. All of these provide not only shelter but also food, since insects will congregate–making for an easy harvest!
6. Make sure you have birdhouses and other similar critter havens available, clean, and in working order. At the same time, do not “evict” critters that happen to cop a squat in any little nook they can find (or make) in your own home. Share the wealth–i.e., the warmth!
Clearly, being a friend to wildlife in the winter does not involve a lot of work, just some planning ahead and some trudging out into the cold to keep the larder filled. All of your hard work, so much that you might even break a sweat despite the cold, will pay off in the end. You will get the chance to liven up the dead season whenever you glance out the window or venture out into the frightful weather, since your yard will be filled with happy, healthy critters. And you will be doing an important bit of compassion in action, making sure that our animal friends do not go without when they are perhaps most in need.
What other tips do you have for creating wildlife-friendly winter yards? Do you have any good stories to share from your own winterizing?